Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kudos to the Monks!

About two years ago I put the Divine Office app on my iPhone. Now I have it on my iPad, too. This app allows you to participate in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s pretty cool - like attending a church service. The scriptures and prayers are read by the narrator and you can join in with the group in giving the responsive readings. The music adds a lot. There is always a hymn, sung by a soloist or a choir. Sometimes there is music playing quietly in the background.

Since buying this app, I’ve developed the habit of praying the Morning Prayer or Prime and the Night Prayer or Compline. I confess that often the Night prayer is said after I’m in bed, and it’s not unheard of for me to drop off to sleep before I finish.

The app is based on the daytime Canonical Hours - 6:00 a.m. is Prime (the first hour), 9:00 a.m. is Terse (the third hour), noon is Sext (the sixth hour), 3:00 p.m. is None (the ninth hour), 6:00 p.m. or sunset is Vespers, and 9:00 p.m. or bedtime is Compline. Medieval monks prayed every three hours, round the clock - day and night - so I guess they never got a full night’s sleep.

I decided I would try to expand my participation in the Liturgy of the Hours by praying at all the Canonical Hours during this Christmas season. I started on December 1. It has been an interesting exercise and has taught me a thing or two about myself. By the way, it helps that I am currently reading The Pillars of the Earth, set in a monastery in medieval times.  Those monks prayed 24 hours a day.  Surely I can do the Liturgy of the Hours 12 hours a day.

I saw immediately that actually staying with the clock was going to be a challenge. Sometimes I’m not up at 6:00 a.m. I know what you’re thinking. If I was really dedicated, I’d set an alarm to be sure I’m up at 6:00. But don’t be too hard on me - I’m trying to ease into this. I decided to do Prime when I get up, which is usually not later than 7:00 a.m. The other hours could follow, roughly three hours apart.

I usually get off to a good start with Prime first thing in the morning. But on the very first day of December, it was almost noon when I realized I hadn’t done Terse. "Why?" I asked myself. "Oh, yeah." I thought, "You were on the phone, having that long conversation with so-and-so." Oh well, nobody’s perfect. I did manage to get in the Sext prayers right after lunch.

After that, I'm sorry to say, the Liturgy of the Hours didn’t cross my mind again until bedtime. I reviewed my day and remembered that I was on Facebook when I should have been praying the None prayers, and I was watching TV at Vespers. OK, three out of six is not too bad for the first day. I did the Compline prayers and went to bed, resolving to do better the next day.

But the next two days weren’t much better. I did manage to get in four of the six Canonical Hours on the third day. Today I managed Prime, Terce, Sext, and Vespers. I was at a memorial service at the None hour - certainly a good reason for missing an hour. Even the monks were allowed to miss an hour for a good reason.

I think I’m making progress, but three hours passes pretty quickly when you're busy. Sometimes what makes me forget to pray is more worthy than Facebook or TV. Sometimes I’m washing dishes or doing the laundry or balancing the check book. Even though these things must be done, I’m already seeing that taking ten or twenty minutes of scripture reading and prayer at regular intervals during the day is an enriching experience. But it’s not as easy as I thought it would be. Kudos to those medieval monks!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

This and That

The Library's Snapdragons
When I was getting dressed this morning, I heard loud shouting - peppered with a few obscenities. Naturally, I wondered what person in need of anger management was in my front yard. It turned out to be a young fellow walking on the side of the road, shouting into his cell phone, apparently not happy with the person on the other end of the connection. As I was looking out a window on the pasture side of the house, I saw that all three horses had gathered near the fence that borders the road. They were curiously watching the angry young man. I thought he was a little kooky, and I think the horses did, too.

Yesterday, just before we left to run some errands in Baton Rouge, Jerry came in from the barn and said that Rocky was favoring his back left foot. He had already looked at Rocky’s hoof and didn’t see anything wrong. I went back to the barn with Jerry. We gave Rocky a dose of equine pain reliever and went on our way to Baton Rouge. I worried about ol’ Rocky all day and wondered what we would find when we got home. I haven’t forgotten the abscessed hoof Tesoro had last year. It took a lot of back-breaking doctoring to get him over it. If Rocky ever needs this doctoring, I’m not sure he will be as cooperative as Tesoro. Fortunately, Rocky was back to normal by the time we got home yesterday afternoon, and he seems to be fine this morning. But we’ll have to keep an eye on him.

I made up my mind yesterday that today was going to be an escape-from-home day. I packed my rolling red bag this morning with laptop, iPad, headphones, and camera, and headed for the public library in Plaquemine.  When I turned in at the library I couldn't resist stopping to take a picture of the snapdragons.  I love snapdragons! 

I didn’t realize that the meeting room at the library is a polling place. The parking lot was almost full. It’s the run-off election for parish sheriff, and it looks like the voter turn out is pretty good. I voted at our polling place before coming here, so I've done my civic duty.

Libraries used to be full of bookworms sitting around with their noses in books. As I look around, I don’t see anybody reading a book. Everybody here is on a computer - either a library desktop computer or their own laptop. It’s a crying shame! I love books, but here I sit - in a library - on a computer. I’ll go home later and read on my Kindle. I can’t help but think that all these books on all these shelves are on life support and may not be with us much longer. I wonder - when the world switched from scrolls to the codex (book), were there people sitting around in scroll libraries, reading books, and mourning the death of the scroll?

I arrived here at about 10:30. I finished a letter to a pen pal - one that I started two weeks ago - and caught up on my journal.   Then I spent about fifteen minutes searching restaurant web sites to see where I could eat lunch in town and stay within my Weight Watchers points for the day. I settled on Taco Bell where the menu includes "fresco style crunchy tacos" - four Weight Watchers points each - Taco Bell’s contribution to a healthy lifestyle. I figured I could afford to eat three of these goodies, so I packed up and went up the road to the drive-through at Taco Bell.

"Three fresco style crunchy tacos," I said. The reply was total silence. I wondered if the speaker was working. "Do you have fresco style tacos?" I said. The answer was, "Hmm --------- no -------- we don’t have 'em." I scanned the menu board. No fresco style crunchy tacos! So much for eating healthy at Taco Bell in Plaquemine. Since I wasn’t in the mood to do another internet search for healthy food, I went home and had Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and an egg sandwich. Now I’m back at the library.

I recently became a subscriber to, a web site that teaches its subscribers how to use software programs. I’ve been guilty more than once of buying software and expensive books to teach me how to use the software. The software gets installed on my computer, the book sits on a shelf, and I never get around to learning the software. I’ve had to face the fact that I’m a software collector, not a learner of software.  I thought maybe would help me kick the "software buying but not learning" habit. 

"After all," I reasoned, "if I’m paying every month, I will certainly make use of their service and learn something." That was a month ago, and have I applied myself to the lessons that offers? No, I have not - not until just now. I spent about 45 minutes with just before I started this post. Somebody pat me on the back! My goal is to learn how to use Microsoft Publisher. I think I got a pretty good start - but I had to leave home to do it.

The library is about to close so I’ve got to start packing up. There’s an LSU game on TV tonight, and I think I have enough points left for popcorn.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Greek Man's Chicken Soup

Once upon a time on Jefferson Highway in Baton Rouge there was a little restaurant in the same building with La Rouge Market.  In fact, you entered the restaurant through the market.  It was a pizza place, but they also served soups and sandwiches. 

The man who ran the restaurant was Greek.  I don't remember his name, but it was a Greek name.  He had a Greek face, and English was obviously his second language.  One of his employees took orders at the counter and the Greek man brought the food out when it was ready.   The kitchen was visible through a pass-through behind the counter, and I could see that it was the Greek man doing the cooking.

La Rouge Market has gas pumps, and one cold winter day I stopped there for gas.  It was lunch time, and I thought this place was probably as good as any other for a quick, lonely lunch.  I was hoping something hot would chase the chill from my bones.  I ordered chicken soup and after the first taste, I was hooked on it.  It was the best chicken soup I had ever tasted.  I like my own homemade chicken soup, but there was something different about this soup - some herb or spice that was unfamiliar to me.  But it was delicious!  It had the usual ingredients - chicken, carrots, celery, onion, etc.  It looked just like my homemade soup, but it tasted so much better.

From then on, when I made my weekly trips to Baton Rouge, I had the Greek man's chicken soup for lunch.  I discovered that there was a drive-through window, so I put the restaurant's phone number in my contacts.  Sometimes I called ahead, ordered my soup, picked it up at the window, and sat in the car to eat.  I don't think there is anything much lonelier than eating in a restaurant by yourself.

For at least two or three years I enjoyed the Greek man's chicken soup for lunch.  It was a hectic time in my life, and there was something emotionally comforting about that chicken soup.  It was good for the soul as well as the body.

Then the fateful day came.  I called to place my order for chicken soup and got a recording saying the number had been disconnected.  I didn't believe it.  It had to be a mistake, so I continued on my way to the Greek man's restaurant.  To my horror, it was closed - and not just closed for the day.  I could see through the window that the tables were gone, and the walls were being repainted.  There was a sign in the window:  "Popeyes Coming Soon."  Popeyes coming soon?!  "The devil take Popeyes!" I thought, "I need my chicken soup!"

I think of the Greek man often.  I even dreamed about him once.  I was walking on a sidewalk with a lot of other people.  I recognized the Greek man among the sea of people walking ahead of me.  I couldn't call to him because I had completely forgotten his name.  I pushed and plowed my way through the crowd, trying desperately to catch up with him and get him to tell me the secret ingredient in his chicken soup.  But alas!  He disappeared in the crowd, and I still don't know the secret ingredient. 

I guess I'm thinking of the Greek man today because I'm suffering with a terrible head cold, it's a chilly day, and the Greek man's soup would be so comforting!  I wish him well, wherever he is.  And I'm sorry I never told him how good his soup was.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Confidence and Humility

It's amazing how much garbage can float around in a person's brain, and they don't even know it's there.  I mean garbage in the form of flawed thinking and erroneous assumptions.  I'm speaking for myself, but I sincerely hope that you, Dear Reader, have at some time discovered that there's garbage floating around in your brain.  After all, misery loves company.

In a recent Bible study class, we were discussing confidence and humility and the importance of having both these qualities.  Immediately, one of those garbage cells in my brain said, "You can't be both confident and humble, you have to be one or the other," implying that that these two things are polar opposites.  "After all," the little garbage cell continued, "confident people aren't humble and humble people are not confident."  At this point I told the little garbage cell to shut up and let me think.

On the drive home I started to wonder if I knew the meaning of either of these words.  When I got home I went to the Merriam-Webster app on my iPad.  (I still have a dictionary, but I'm not sure where it is since I never use it anymore.  All this information is literally at my finger tips on the iPad.) I'll let you go to the dictionary or app of your choice for the full definitions of these two words, but Merriam-Webster gives these as synonyms for confident: trustworthy, dogmatic, contentious, presumptous.  In other words, a mixed bag.

When I looked up humility, Merriam-Webster directed me to humble.  Synonyms for humble include: insignificant, mean, base, unpretentious, meek, modest, lowly.  Wow!  Another mixed bag.

Based on these definitions and synonyms, it appears that our culture is not sure what either of these words mean.  I started to wonder if our ancestors were as confused about these words as we are, so I hauled out the modern reprint of the American Dictionary of the English Language, originally published in 1828.  (Remind me to see if this 6+ pound book is available on the iPad.)

In case you don't have a large, hefty 1828 dictionary, here's what it has to say:

1.  Having full belief; trusting; relying; fully assured
"It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in man."  Psalms 118
2.  Positive, dogmatical; as a confident talker
3.  Trusting; without suspicion
4.  Bold to a vice; having an excess of assurance

1.  In ethics, freedom from pride and arrogance; humbleness of mind; a modest estimate of one's own worth.  In theology, a deep sense of one's unworthiness in the sight of God, self-abasement, penitence for sin, and submission to the Divine will. 
"Before honor is humility." Proverbs 15
2.  An act of submission

Are things clearer now?  I don't know.  I think our ancestors would agree with Merriam-Webster that confidence can be positive or negative.  But I think it's safe to say that our ancestors had a higher opinion of humility than Merriam-Webster does.  They didn't equate humility with mean, insignificant, and base.  By the way, our ancestors were such believers in God that they peppered their dictionary with excerpts from the Bible.  God bless them!

So.  How does one go about being both confident and humble?  This is a tall order.  If you are confident, it's hard to be humble when other people question what you're confident about.  Your ego kicks in and, if you're not careful, you end up going over to the dark side of confident.  In other words, you become contentious and presumptious.    But if you're too humble, the ungodly confident people are apt to run over you with a steam roller. 

I have a terrible cold.  As I hundled under the covers in my bed this morning, barely able to breathe, I had a long conversation with God about this dilemma.  How, Lord, can I be both confident and humble?  I don't claim to hear voices, but sometimes things are so strongly impressed on my mind that I have no choice but to think God is doing the impressing.  

My first impression was that God doesn't want me to expend a lot of energy trying to figure out how to do this.  He gave me the same answer he often gave the disciples when they asked him how something difficult could be possible.  He said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God."  (Mark 10:27)  In other words, I think God was saying, "Stop worrying about it.  I'm going to help you."

The second impression had to do with my struggle to define humility.  And here's the definition that was impressed on my mind - "To be humble is to see and acknowledge the truth even when the truth does not favor you.  To be humble is to be teachable.  Without humility, learning is not possible." 

So - what can I say?  There it is.  I know this definition is not in the modern Merriam-Webster or in the 1828 dictionary of our ancestors, but I think it's a pretty good definition of humility. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Coffee Shoppe vs. The Public Library

Like a lot of other people who like to write, I can't seem to write at home.  There's too much to distract me - dishes to wash, beds to make, bills to pay.  In other words - everyday life.  The solution seems simple - get all these things done before you begin to write.  But the trouble is that there's no end to these things.  The more you do, the more you see to do.  My only option is to leave home.

Our little town doesn't have a coffee shoppe.  I wish it did.  The nearest coffee shoppe is in Baton Rouge.  I wouldn't mind making the drive if I knew coffee shoppe conditions would be conducive to writing.  But I can't count on that being the case.  Sometimes the music is too loud.  Sometimes the music is of a genre that I can't stand, and it numbs my brain.  But then if the music is the kind I really like, it distracts me too much.  I want to sing along instead of write.

Coffee shoppes are social places, and I don't mind that.  In fact, taking a break from writing to eavesdrop on the nearest conversation is a pleasant diversion.    But occasionally, there are loud people.  Most of the time I think they're just having so much fun with their friends that they don't realize how loud they are; but occasionally there's a pompous jerk who really believes everybody present wants to hear his opinions.  I have to stifle the urge to tell him he's mistaken.

In spite of these potential problems, it is possible to have the perfect coffee shoppe experience - not too many people, but enough people to keep loneliness at bay - low volume music that's good, but not too good.  And of course, your choice of a variety of coffee, tea, and pastries.  But twenty-five miles is a long drive when you have no guarantee that the experience will be perfect or even acceptable.
The alternative is the local public library.  That's where I am today.  Our town is blessed with a very good library.  I'm sitting at a round oak table in a comfortable chair, connected to the library's free wireless internet.  It's quiet.  If you speak at all here, it's in hushed tones.  It's not a social place.  There is no music.  It's a serious get-down-to-business kind of place.  And there's a lot to be said for this atmosphere.  I can usually get quite a bit accomplished here in an hour or two.  But there's one big drawback - no food or drink is allowed.  Oh, what I'd give right about now for my favorite hot drink!  A skinny peppermint mocha latte with half the chocolate syrup and no whipped cream - and biscotti to go with it!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Back in the Groove

Entrance to The Myrtles Plantation
I think I timed my knee surgery just right.  It's been a little more than two months since I came home from the hospital, and I'm back to doing most of my normal activities just at the arrival of my favorite season - glorious autumn! 

Last weekend Jerry and I took a day trip to St. Francisville, one of my favorite little towns.  We ate lunch on the screened porch of Magnolia Cafe.  We cruised around town, enjoying the fall decorations.  We rode out to the old ferry landing and got a glimpse of the new bridge over the Mississippi which makes it a short trip to New Roads on the west side of the river.

The Myrtles Plantation
We've been to St. Francisville several times, but had never toured The Myrtles Plantation, said to be "the most haunted house in America."  We looked around in the gift shop and bought our tickets for the 3:00 p.m. tour.  Since we had a few minutes to wait, we sat in the rocking chairs on the big back porch until time for our tour.  We didn't see any ghosts, but we did learn about all the tragedies that happened over the years at The Myrtles.  I can see why ghosts might find it an attractive place.  After standing up throughout the 30 minute tour, my right knee was reminding me that it's not quite well.  Even so, we had a pleasant outing.

A Backlog of Correspondence
My letter rack filled up while I was recovering from surgery, and I'm still trying to catch up.  I don't have time to write leisurely letters with my slow left hand, so I'm making use of the computer.  I can type so much faster than my left hand can write.  I've been exploring all the fonts that look like handwriting - and there are a bunch of them!  I like script fonts almost as much as I like fountain pens and ink.

Speaking of ink - I ordered a bottle of J. Herbin's "Orange Indien" ink, thinking it would be the perfect ink color for fall.  I filled my new TWSBI fine-nibbed fountain pen with this orangey color and tried it out on some scrap paper.  What a disappointment - it was entirely too pale!  After a few days of wondering what to do with a whole bottle of ink that's not to my liking, I decided to try it in a different pen.  I cleaned up my Cross Townsend, which has an oblique medium nib, and loaded it with Orange Indien.  What a difference!  This medium nib puts down more ink than a fine nib and gives lots of nice shading.  This is what makes a fountain pen hobby so interesting.  There are endless pen-ink-paper combinations that produce widely differing results. 

It's tea time so I'm off to put the kettle on.  A cup of Earl Grey with some toast and strawberry jam will hit the spot.  Wish you could join me!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Secret Life of a Fountain Pen Aficionado - Conclusion

 As my mother's only child, I inherited several boxes filled with papers and objects relating to her literary interests.  After more than one diligent search, I have to report that her Esterbrook desk pen is not among these things.  In flights of fancy I imagine that it may have accompanied her to heaven.  I sincerely hope so.  I picture her, seated at a gilded desk, her health restored, putting pen and peacock blue ink to heavenly paper that neither feathers nor bleeds.

A year or two after my mother's death, I ran across an Esterbrook desk pen listed on E-Bay.  The description said, "needs to be reconditioned."  My husband, knowing my passion for fountain pens in general and Esterbrook desk pens in particular, ordered it for me.  It occupied a place in my mother's secretary desk for quite a while before I discovered where to send it for reconditioning.  It has now been returned to me in good working order.  I located a bottle of peacock blue ink among my mother's things, and of course that's what flows from my Esterbrook.

I must confess that there have been long periods of time when I haven't touched a fountain pen.  Then this obsession of mine, having been in a dormant state, whispers to me like some long lost lover.  I find myself searching in long forgotten storage places for every fountain pen I ever owned.  For weeks or months I revel in the life of a fountain pen aficionado.  Then my passion would be put to the test and finally squelched by my old nemesis - inferior paper.

In 2006 there was a revival of my fountain pen inclination that has remained constant thanks to the Fountain Pen Network, a community of forums dedicated to fountain pens, paper, and writing paraphernalia.  I had no idea there were so many fountain pen enthusiasts all over the world!  Through FPN I learned where to find quality paper that is reasonably priced and works with fountain pens - Clairfontaine Triomphe stationery, classic laid stationery by G. Lalo, Rhodia tablets, and Moleskine notebooks.  Gliding a fountain pen over any of these papers is pure joy!

This leads me to an obvious question.  If quality paper can be produced at a reasonable price, why are we plagued by inferior paper?  The answer came to me before I had finished typing the question - because we have been launched onto the swirling water of a fast-paced computerized world where - if pens are used at all - they are ball point pens and any old paper will do.

Like the rest of the world, I too have a love affair with the computer.  My husband is quick to remind me that he and our daughters had to pry my blue fingernails from our old typewriter and forcefully seat me in front of a computer.  I have finally adjusted to the computerized age.  However, that doesn't mean I've lost the ability to savor life in the alternate dimension of fountain pens where the tempo is slower, ink flows freely, and the quality of paper matters.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Time Out

I'll be having right knee replacement surgery this week.  I had my left knee done last year with very satisfactory results.  But, I must say, I'm glad I'm not a centipede!  I've been reminiscing about my last surgery by reading this old post: Me, My Knee, and Feline Therapy

As soon as I'm able, I'll post the conclusion to "The Secret Life of a Fountain Pen Aficionado."  I thought I'd get it posted before surgery, but I've had entirely too much to do to get ready for this little hospital visit.  Anyway - I'll be back soon.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Secret Life of a Fountain Pen Aficionado - Part Two

                                                        The pen of preference for me and my college friends was Sheaffer's inexpensive cartridge fountain pen.  This was a capped pen - not a desk pen - and it went everywhere with me.  Cartridge pens were a new innovation, popular for their convenience.  But note-taking students could go through a box of cartridges in a short period of time, and this could be a drain on the purse.

A fellow classmate introduced me to the practice of refilling cartridges with a needle and syringe.  A fairly inexpensive bottle of Sheaffer ink would refill countless cartridges.  After four or five refills, a cartridge had to be discarded because the opening that fit on the pen nib would become enlarged which could mean a leaky pen.  Even so, this method stretched our cartridge allowance.  Of course, we could have alleviated our ink budget problems considerably by using cheap ball point pens.  But, as fountain pen devotees, we couldn't bring ourselves do descend to the level of an uninspired ball point.

Lots of things have improved over the years, but it seems to me that the quality of common, everyday paper declined during the 1950s and 60s.  No longer could you use your fountain pen on a lot of dime store tablets without having the ink feather or bleed.  "Feathering" is when the ink travels to places it shouldn't go, producing a broad, blurry line instead of a fine, distinct one.  "Bleeding" is when the ink goes through to the other side of the paper.

Due to this decline in the quality of ordinary paper, fountain pen lovers had to choose to either retire their fountain pens or go to specialty shops to buy better, more expensive paper.  Those who could afford it, sprung for the expensive paper for letters of importance; but they still had to resort to the common ball point for such mundane tasks as making out the grocery list. 

to be continued . . .

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Secret Life of a Fountain Pen Aficionado - Part One

Few of my friends and acquaintances know about my penchant for fountain pens.  I don't bore them with the knowledge since most people today have no interest in fountain pens.  Young people don't know what they are.  But my memories of fountain pens go way back.

According to the dictionary, "a man of letters" is one who is devoted to literary  activities.  By this definition, my mother was definitely "a woman of letters."  She was an avid reader and always preferred big, thick novels about families and old houses.  She had a beautiful handwriting and was a gifted writer.  She kept a journal all of her life until a stroke took away her ability to write.  She persisted for a while after the stroke, but eventually stopped.  Her last poignant journal entry is an unrecognizable scrawl that trails off in mid-sentence, never to be resumed.  My mother died eleven years ago, and I still can't look at that last journal entry without weeping.

When I was a child, my parents' gift to most high school graduates who sent them an announcement was an Esterbrook desk fountain pen exactly like the one Mama used.  I was usually with her when she made her annual trip to the office supply in downtown Panama City, Florida, to purchase these gifts.  The pen base was formed in a rounded shape.  It was heavy and shiny black.  The pen was black except for the end opposite the writing nib.  This end was tapered to a point and made of clear plastic.  It looked like crystal, or so I thought at the time.

An Esterbrook desk pen symbolized adulthood to me.  I understood perfectly that children did not use fountain pens.  My mother firmly believed that one person should not use another person's fountain pen.  She thought that in time, a fountain pen adjusts itself to the angle at which the writer holds it.  A different writer, holding the pen at a different angle, might spoil the pen for its owner.  Mama thought it was bad manners to ask to borrow someone's fountain pen.

Mama's desk pen always held Sheaffer's "Peacock Blue" ink.  It was her trademark.  It's a turquoise blue, or maybe "aqua" describes it better.  It may have reminded Mama of the gorgeous aqua color of the Gulf of Mexico - an appropriate ink color for the many letters dispatched from Panama City to relatives in the mountains of West Virginia.

By the time I was a teenager, the annual pilgrimages to the office supply had stopped.  I didn't think much about it at the time.  Like most teenagers, my attention was focused on my own affairs, and I had ceased to accompany my mother on her errands.  I have learned since that Esterbrook stopped making fountain pens sometime during the 1950s.  And that, of course, explains why I did not receive an Esterbrook desk pen when I graduated from high school in 1964.

to be continued . . .

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rain, Rain

Don't get me wrong.  I am not complaining.  We've had so many drought spells over the last few years, I'd be ashamed to complain.  At times we've seen the pasture so dry that the ground was cracking.  We would sit in the barn aisle and watch the horses paw the earth, making big clouds of dust.  We've run sprinklers in the pasture in an attempt to preserve some grass for the critters and paid big water bills as a result. 

So - you won't hear me complaining about rain - and we've been having it almost every day for a while now.  But I am amazed at how short my memory is.  I had forgotten that when you get a lot of rain, all the vegetation that you want to grow certainly does improve; but the weeds suck up the rain and grow twice as fast as the good stuff grows. 

Even if you like weed eating, mowing, etc., some days it's impossible to do because it won't stop raining.  When there is a little break in the rain, it's too wet and squishy to do anything. 

And then there's mud.  I really had forgotten about mud - it's been so long since we've had long rainy spells.  I'm getting a refresher course now.  The ground around the horses watering trough is a mass of ooey, gooey, sticky, icky mud. 

The flower pots on the deck already looked bad from the previous drought conditions.  (I've already told you - I'm not a gardener.)  Now they're really a sight to see.  Just when the portulaca, miniature rose, Blue Daze, and the herbs were beginning to look a little better because they're getting some water - big healthy weedy vines have sprung up in the ground around the deck.  They're sending their evil tendrils up on the deck to attack what's in the pots - and what's in the pots is no match for them! 

I usually just walk across the deck on my way to the barn.  I don't pay much attention to the plants.  They probably think they're invisible.  But yesterday even I couldn't ignore a poor Blue Daze under attack from one of the vines.  Tendrils were wrapped around and around it's poor branches.  Baby vines had sprung up in the pot with the Blue Daze.  You don't have these evil super-weeds in a drought.  But of course, in a drought, the favored plants barely survive for lack of a gardner - but that's another story.

Two or three days of sun would be nice.  It would give us a chance to dry out and beat the jungle vegetation back.  But I'm definitely not complaining. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day Trip

Iberville Visitors Center - Main Building

We decided to do some rambling today, so we took care of the barn chores early this morning. We packed our camera equipment and set out for Breaux Bridge.

On the way we stopped at the Iberville Visitors Center, located near I-10 in Gross Tete.  It opened a little over a year ago, and today was our first visit.  We drank complimentary coffee and chatted with the two friendly ladies who work there.  The inside is as beautiful as the outside.   Cypress floors, doors, and paneling make it a reflection of the nearby Atchafalaya Swamp.

Iberville Visitors Center - Grounds
We traveled on to Breaux Bridge and decided to make the short trip out to Lake Martin.  We drove along the gravel road that runs along the swampy edge of the lake.  I was hoping to see an alligator, so we stopped when we came to a break in the foliage where we had a good view of the swamp. 

I saw bubbles in the water and remembered that Willie, on Swamp People, is always talking about where you see bubbles, there is usually an alligator.  But I'll swear, I couldn't see anything but a couple of old knarly pieces of wood in the water.  Just as I was complaining that we weren't going to see any gators, I realized that the knarly pieces of wood were two alligators - one of them looking me in the eye from just a few feet away.  He was nice enough to sit still so I could get his picture.
Alligator Disguised as Driftwood!
We went farther down the road and discovered that there is a new Lake Martin Visitors Center, complete with a picnic pavilion and state of the art rest rooms.  Now if you've ever been to Lake Martin, you will appreciate what a great thing this is!  We used to have to drive back into Breaux Bridge to find a public rest room which meant we couldn't stay out at the lake for hours on end.  Now we will be able to pack a picnic lunch and spend the day at the lake, watching the wildlife and taking pictures.  I think we'll wait for cooler weather though.
Boardwalk through the Swamp

We walked the quarter mile boardwalk through the swamp, but didn't see anything as exciting as our two gator friends up the road.
Swamp as Seen from the Boardwalk
We had some good Cajun food for lunch at Poche's, a Breaux Bridge meat market and restaurant which was recently featured in Garden & Gun magazine.  After lunch we did some looking around in one of the antique shops in the historic district of Breaux Bridge.  I like to check these places out for old post cards, stationery, and desk paraphernalia.  But I didn't have any luck today.

When we took the Gross Tete exit to head home, we decided to make one last stop at a new gift shop called The Swamp Shop, right across the road from the Iberville Visitors Center.  In fact, the ladies at the Visitors Center had told us about this new gift shop when we made our first stop there this morning.

Jean Crites, the proprietor of The Swamp Shop is very friendly and welcoming.  And her shop is something to see!  Since it's in a house, I assumed the owners probably lived there and had a one room gift shop.  But no, the shop takes up the entire house.  All the merchandise has a Louisiana theme.  Each room is artfully arranged and decorated, and it's a pleasure to stroll around and look.  I stocked up on post cards to send to my pen pals.  Jerry found two books he wanted, and I couldn't resist a beautiful glass fleur de lis necklace.  I'm already thinking that this might be a good place to do some Christmas shopping.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

English Campaign Desk with Improvements

It's always fun to make a good thing better.  That's what we've done with the English campaign desk that I reviewed in an earlier post.  Jerry installed the eye screws and chain, shown in the photo at left, with a little bit of help from me.  It was his idea to use jewelry chain with a clasp on each end so the chain can be easily removed if there's ever a reason to do so.  The chain keeps the stationery holder section of the box upright so that it doesn't flop down and spill all your stationery.  When the stationery holder section is closed the chain drops into the little compartment as shown in the photo below.

I also added some green blotter paper to the sloped writing section.  I attached it with removeable double-faced tape. The blotter paper protects the wood and makes a slightly padded writing surface. 

In the photo below you'll notice that I've placed a blue coaster under the hinged clasp to keep it from marring the surface of whatever table or desk the campaign desk is sitting on when I'm writing.  This blue coaster was all I could find around the house to serve this purpose, but I'm on the lookout for something that will look better with the green blotter.

I've already written quite a few letters and post cards on this campaign desk.  Thank goodness I'm actually using it.  I don't need any more what-nots!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In Defense of Mediocrity

At an early age, I got the mistaken idea that the only choices in life are to do things perfectly or not to do them at all. 

A wise woman once told me I was a perfectionist.  I laughed and told her she didn't know me.  I assured her that I seldom do things perfectly.  Then she gave me a real jolt by saying, "I don't mean that you do everything perfectly.  I mean that you're waiting to do anything until you can do it perfectly."  I've never forgotten her, and it took me a long time to forgive her.  Her comment irritated me for years until I finally admitted to myself that it was true, and that my worship of perfectionism was literally paralyzing me.

No doubt a high degree of excellence must be maintained in some areas - like brain surgery. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of life, there's a lot to be said for mediocrity.

The modern world has given mediocrity a bum rap.  Today if someone says your performance at some skill is mediocre, you feel insulted.  And you should because mediocre often means inferior.  Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines mediocre or mediocrity as "of moderate or low value, ordinary, so-so." The dictionary app on my iPhone pulls no punches and just comes right out and calls it "inferior."

Far be it from me to argue with the dictionary, but when I read these definitions, I said, "Bull!"  Something told me that mediocrity wasn't always a word of ill repute.

I lugged out the 1828 edition of The American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster. I bought this dictionary a few years ago just for these wordy occasions.
Here's how Noah Webster defined mediocrity 1828:
1. A middle state or degree; a moderate degree or rate. A mediocrity of condition is most favorable to morals and happiness. A mediocrity of talents well employed will generally ensure respectability.

"Men of age seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success." Bacon

2. Moderation; temperance.

"We owe obedience to the law of reason, which teacheth mediocrity in meats and drinks." Hooker

It appears to me that since 1828, mediocrity has gone from a virtue to a vice.  Yes, I know - language changes - it evolves.  Even so, there's something sinister about a perfectly respectable word evolving to the point that it means the opposite of what it once meant.

I think this is an indication that we humans have become full of ourselves.  We've got to be the best, have the most, climb to the top of the heap. 

I think Robinson Crusoe's father gave him some good advice.  He told his son that a middle state in life is best. The middle state isn't exposed to the hardships and sufferings of the poor, and neither is it "embarrassed with the pride, luxury, ambition, and envy of the upper part of mankind."  In other words, Robinson Crusoe's old papa was a believer in mediocrity in the classic sense.  So am I.

Lately we've been putting mediocrity into practice right here on Bywater Farm.  We've committed ourselves to fifteen minutes of de-cluttering every day - a mediocre commitment to be sure.  But we're accomplishing more than we ever did with the "Gung ho!  We're going to devote a week (or two or three) to getting this place cleared out and ship-shape!"  Long live mediocrity!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

English Campaign Desk

English Campaign Desk - Photo #1
This nifty little writing box arrived in the mail yesterday.   I told you I was having a good mail week!  I ordered this online from Acorn, a website that sells a variety of gift items.  I also get the Acorn mail order catalog which is almost as much fun to peruse as J. Peterman's catalog. 

This box is listed as an English Campaign Desk.  Prior to the 20th century this kind of thing was a common item used by military men and explorers.  They moved around a lot and needed a compact box that was useful for storage as well as writing.

This is not a lap desk.  It's designed to be used on a table.  Photo #1 shows the front of the box in closed position.  In this position, the deminsions are 10.5 inches by 8.75 inches by 3 inches.

Photo #2 (scroll down) shows the writing surface open. This sloped surface is 10.5 inches wide and 8.75 inches from top to bottom.  If you like to write on full 8.5 inch by 11 inch paper, this might be a bit small.  Since most of my handwriting is done on half-sheet sized stationery, notecards, and post cards, it suits my purposes.

Before I got this dandy little box I had not had any experience writing on a slope.  I'm happy to say the slope solves a problem for me.  I wear trifocals, and the slope puts the paper in just the right position for viewing through the bottom lens of my glasses.  When I write on a flat surface, I find myself alternating between the bottom and middle lenses of my glasses and not having my writing in perfect focus either way.  But this, of course, is my personal problem. 

Photo #2

Photo #3 shows the little "file" section open.  You can store stationery here, but there are some things to consider.  If the stationery is too big and sticks out of the file slots, it will be damaged when the box is closed.  If post cards are dropped down in these slots, you can't get hold of them to get them out.  I'm going to solve this problem by custom making a mini file folder for each slot.  These folders will stick out just enough for me to get hold of them.  I can keep post cards and small notecards in these folders and be able to reach them by lifting the folders out.

My only criticism of this box is that the file folder section does not stand up on its own.  It appears to stand up in this photo because its leaning on the side panel of the piece of furniture that its on.  My handy husband says this can be fixed with two little eyelet screws and a little bit of chain.  He's gathering the supplies to make this modification.  When it's done I'll make another post with a photo and a report on how it works.

Photo #3

Photo #4 is a close-up of the middle section, showing all the neat little compartments.  Underneath the compartment at the bottom of the photo is a little drawer.  You'll want to keep things you don't get to often in here because whatever is in the center section has to be taken out to get to the drawer.  It's a little unhandy, but the drawer is a way to make use of space that would be wasted otherwise.

Photo #4

Let me add that this writing box has a slight odor about it, although I don't find it to be unpleasant.  Is this a funiture oil that was applied to the box or is this the natural smell of teakwood?  I don't know. 

Although this is a new item, it is made in the distressed fashion so that it will look like an antique - and it does.  I think "English campaign desk" is a mouthful so I'm calling this my safari desk.  I can picture Stanley in his tent - sitting at his safari desk - penning a note to Livingston.  No, wait - he couldn't pen a note to Livingston.  He was trying to find Livingston.  Oh well, you get the idea. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Good Mail Week!

I'm one of those people who measure a good week by what they find in their mailbox.  And this week has been a postal bonanza! 

I've received letters from California, Texas, and New Jersey; post cards from Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Peru, and a birthday card from north Louisiana. 

Of course, I did my part to brighten other people's mail boxes by sending letters to California and Hawaii; post cards to Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Australia. 

I've had even more than post cards and letters in my mailbox.  My Noodler's flex fountain pen arrived yesterday!  It lives up to all the good reviews.  It produces quite a range of line width and is a nice looking pen, too.  Since it's a piston filler, it holds a lot of ink.  All this goodness for $14.00!  Unbelievable!  I've loaded it with Noodler's Iraqi Indigo ink and plan to put it to work writing a letter before the day is out.

My membership packet from the Letter Writers Alliance arrived, too.  It included a membership card, a cool pin with the LWA logo, and LWA stationery.  Membership in LWA also allows you to download nifty notecards, stationery, etc., from the website and print them on your own paper.

I'm off now to write a letter to the 2011 Letter Project - with my new Noodler's pen, of course.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gardening, Anyone?

When your rake is rusty and a stray vine is using the handle as a trellis, it's hard to convince anyone that you're a gardener.  I am not a gardener.  Although I have a great appreciation for green growing things, I am more drawn to animal husbandry than to gardening. 

My interest in gardening usually comes in spurts in the spring and fizzles out when the summer heat arrives.  This year I didn't even experience the spring spurt.  The heat has set in now, so the prospects for serious gardening are slim until things cool off in the fall. 

In the relatively cool morning hours this week, I have made a stab at gardening.  In other words, I've been removing dead plants and healthy weeds from pots on the deck - the pots I mentioned in my last post. 

The moss roses have already put out a beautiful yellow bloom.  They are looking very perky this morning after the water I gave them yesterday.  I'm always amazed at what water will do for a plant!  That in itself proves that I'm no gardener.  A true gardener is never surprised at what water can do. 

I resisted the urge to buy very many plants this spring, knowing that my life was too hectic to even pretend to care for them.  I did buy some Blue Daze plants.  I'm a big fan of Blue Daze.  This is no sissy plant!  It bears neglect like a real trooper.  When it doesn't get the miraculous H2O, its little leaves may curl up and wither a bit - but it doesn't throw in the towel and die like so many other plants.  No, indeed!  When it finally gets some water, it bounces right back and doesn't seem to hold a grudge.

It even bounces back after a light freeze in the winter.  Although it's an annual, I've had Blue Daze to come back three years in a row - in spite of me!  Even though we had several hard freezes last winter, one of the three plants in the pots at my front door has reappeared.  I removed the dead bodies from the other two pots and put in the new plants. 

I cut the dead heads off the miniature rose on the deck yesterday morning.  I noticed spider webs and tiny crawly things on the leaves so I squirted it with some insecticide that's supposed to kill all the critters that like to torment roses.  I feel sorry for roses.  It seems to me that while you are in the very act of planting a rose, there are hundreds of insects watching.  As soon as you turn your back, they pounce on the poor defenseless rose bush.

My useful knowledge about roses would fit in a thimble with room left over.  Two or three years ago I decided I'd like to plant a rose that would trail along the picket fence that surrounds our back yard.  I bought a climber called "Don Juan."  The label said it would produce fragrant red roses.  Just what I wanted!  

Jerry planted this rose for me, right where I told him to, by the fence.  I had the vague notion that you have to "train" roses, so I set out to train Don Juan to grow horizontally along the fence.  But Don has proved to be contrary.  I want him to grow horizontally, and he's determinded to grow vertically. 

As usual, the problem is my ignorance.  After doing some after-the-fact research, I see that what I really wanted was a rambling rose, not a climbing rose.  Did you know there's a difference?  I didn't.  According to the rose experts who write articles for gardening websites, it's easy to tell them apart.  A rambler's leaves are in groups of seven while a climber's leaves are in groups of five.  Who knew?

So now - what am I going to do with Don Juan?  Like Jack's beanstalk, Don is determined to reach the sky and is never going to trail along our picket fence.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Coming Out of the Doldrums

Sometimes you can be in the doldrums so long that you don't even notice when the wind picks up and it's time to hoist the sails.  This morning I think I feel a little wind, and I'm putting the sails out - figuratively, of course. 

Summer is here, and the sights and sounds are unmistakeable.  The early morning sun dances on the little ripples in the bayou.  The horses' coats are shiny and sleek.  The table in the tack room is full of tomatoes from Jerry's garden.  The clack-clack of the big fan in the barn aisle, the swish of the sprinklers in the pasture, and the hum of the tractor are all signs of summer.

My breakfast this morning was red grapes and saltine crackers, eaten out in the pasture on the tractor.  A big part of horse-keeping on a two acre hobby farm is the moving of manure.  If your horses are running free on twenty acres, picking up manure is not an issue; but in a small pasture, you can't afford to let too much manure accumulate and kill what little grass you've got.  I drive the tractor while Jerry scoops poop into the bucket.  When the bucket is full, it's lifted up and emptied over the fence on the midden heap where it decomposes and makes good fertilizer.  If you're a persnickety city type, the idea of eating breakfast while a manure-moving operation is going on probably doesn't sound appealing.  What can I say?  There's a wide gulf between city people and farm people. 

The flower pots on our deck are a sad sight.  I have to walk across the deck when I go to the barn, and the sight of pots of dead plants and healthy weeds has been nagging at me for quite a while.  I noticed the other day that our two ferns appear to be dead, but two different varieties of moss roses are springing up in the fern pots.  Where in the world did they come from?  It's been several years since I cultivated moss roses.   Oh well, I won't question a nice surprise like this.  I pulled the few stray weeds growing with the moss roses and loosened the dirt with a hand spade. I watered these little volunteers and look forward to their colorful blooms.

I learned about a new pen as I was browsing around on the Fountain Pen Network yesterday - Noodler's flex fountain pen.  I love pens with flexible nibs.  If you press hard, you get a thick line.  If you let up on the pressure, you get a thin line.  All this variation in thickness and thinness makes for very attractive handwriting.  But some flex nibs are troublesome.  I once paid over $100 for a pen with a 14k gold semi-flex nib.  It wasn't the pen for me, and I ended up selling it to someone who appreciated it more than I did.  Noodler's flex pen has a steel nib and is only $14.00.  Needless to say, I've ordered one and it should arrive by the end of the week. 

While googling for reviews of Noodler's flex pen, I was led to  a fantastic blog - "Painted Thoughts," the creation of an artist named Laure Ferlita.  All her blog posts include sketches or watercolors.  Check it out here:

The afternoon is flying by - I'm off to write a letter!